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INTERNAL FACTORS IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

THE THEORY OF LEARNER - INTERNAL FACTORS IN SECOND


LANGUAGE ACQUISITION
M. S. Vijaykumar
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education. English Department, Sirte University, Sirte, Libya
R.Suneetha Vijay
Lecturer, St.Francis B.Ed, College, Bangalore, India

Voice of Research
Vol. 2, Issue 3
December 2013
ISSN No. 2277-7733

Abstract

While the majority of SLA research has been devoted to language learning in a natural setting, there have also been
efforts made to investigate second-language acquisition in the classroom. This kind of research has a significant
overlap with language education, but it is always empirical, based on data and statistics, and it is mainly concerned
with the effect that instruction has on the learner, rather than what the teacher does. A review of SLA theories and their
explanations for age-related differences is necessary before considering empirical studies. Research explores these
ideas and hypotheses, but results are varied: some demonstrate pre-pubescent children acquire language easily, and
some that older learners have the advantage, and yet others focus on existence of a CP for SLA.SLA research began as
an interdisciplinary field, and because of this, it is difficult to identify a precise starting date. Empirical research has
attempted to account for variables detailed by SLA theories and provide an insight into L2 learning processes, which
can be applied in educational environments. The study of learner-internal factor in SLA is primarily concerned with the
question: How do learners gain competence in the target language? In other words, given effective input and
instruction, with what internal resources do learners process this input to produce a rule-governed inter language.
Keywords: acquisition, factor, mechanism, critical period, L1 & L2
related differences is necessary before considering
Second-language acquisition, second-language learning,
empirical studies. The most reductionist theories are those
or L2 acquisition, is the process by which people learn a
of Penfield and Roberts (1959) and Lenneberg (1967),
second language. Second-language acquisition (often
which stem from L1 and brain damage studies; children
abbreviated to SLA) also refers to the scientific discipline
who suffer impairment before puberty typically recover
devoted to studying that process. Second language refers
and(re-) develop normal language, whereas adults rarely
to any language learned in addition to a persons first
fully, and often do not regain verbal abilities beyond the
language; although the concept is named secondpoint reached five months after impairment. Both theories
language acquisition, it can also incorporate the learning
agree that children have a neurological advantage in
of third, fourth, or subsequent languages. Secondlearning language, and that puberty correlates with turning
language acquisition refers to what learners do; it does not
points in ability. They assert that language acquisition
refer to practices in language teaching.
occurs primarily, possible exclusively, during childhood as
Critical period research to date
the brain loses plasticity after a certain age. It then
How children acquire native language (L1) and the
becomes rigid and fixed, and loses the ability for
relevance of this to foreign language (L2) learning has
adaptation and reorganization, rendering language (re-)
long been debated. Although evidence for L2 learning
learning difficult. Cases of deaf and feral children provide
ability declining with age is controversial, a common
evidence for a biologically determined CP for L1 feral
notion is that children learn L2s easily and older learners
children are those not exposed to language in infancy/
rarely achieve fluency. This assumption stems from
childhood due to being brought up in the wild, in isolation
critical period (CP) ideas. A Critical Period was
and/or confinement. A classic example aged thirteen (postpopularized by Eric Lenneberg in 1976 for L1 acquisition,
pubescent).
but considerable interest now surrounds age effects on
Such studies are however problematic; isolation can result
second language acquisition (SLA). SLA theories explain
in general retardation and emotional disturbance, which
learning processes and suggest causal factors for a
may confound conclusions drawn about language
possible CP for SLA, mainly attempting to explain apparent
abilities. Studies of deaf children learning American Sign
differences in language aptitude of psychological
Language (ASL) have fewer methodological weaknesses.
mechanisms. Research explores these ideas and
Newport and Supalla (1987) studied ASL acquisition in
hypotheses, but results are varied: some demonstrate predeaf children different in age exposure; few were to ASL
pubescent children acquire language easily, and some that
from birth, most of them first learner it at school.
older learners have the advantage, and yet others focus on
Review of literature
existence of a CP for SLA. Recent studies (e.g. Mayberry
and lock, 2003) have recognized that certain aspects of
Empirical research has attempted to account for variables
SLA may be affected by age, through others remain intact.
detailed by SLA theories and provide an insight into L2
The objective of this study is to investing whether
learning processes, which can be applied in educational
capacity for vocabulary acquisition decreases with age.
environments. Recent SLA investigation have followed
two main directions: one focuses on pairings of L1 that
A review of SLA theories and their explanations for ageVoice of Research, Vol. 2 Issue 3, December 2013, ISSN No. 2277-7733

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INTERNAL FACTORS IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

render L2 acquistion particularly difficult, and the other


investigates certain aspects of language that may be
maturationally constrained. Flege, Mackay and Piske
(2002) looked at bilingual dominance to evaluate two
explanations of L2 performance differences between
bilinguals and monolingual-L2 speakers, i.e. a
maturationally defined CP or Interlingua interference.
Flege, Mackay and Piske investigated if the age at which
participants learned English affected dominance in ItalianEnglish bilinguals, and found the early bilinguals were
English (L2) dominant and the late bilinguals Italian (L1)
dominant. Further analysis showed that dominant Italian
bilinguals had detectable foreign accents when speaking
English but early bilinguals (English dominant) had no
accents in either language. This suggests that though
Interlingua interference effects are not inevitable, their
emergence and bilingual dominance may be related to CP.
Sebastian-Galles, Echeverria and Bosch (2005) also studied
bilinguals and highlight the impaotance of early language
exposure. They looked at vocabulary processing and
representation in Spanish-Catalan bilinguals exposed to
both languages simultaneously from birth in comparison
to those who had learned L2 later and were either Spanishor Catalan-dominant. Findings showed from birth
bilinguals had significantly or difficulty distinguishing
Catalan words from non-words differing in specific vowels
than Catalan-dominants did (measured by reaction time).
These difficulties are attributed to a phase around age
eight months where bilingual infants are incentive to
vowel contrasts, despite the language they hear most.
This affects how words are later represented in their
lexicons, highlighting this as a decisive period in language
acquisition and showing that initial language exposure
shapes linguistic processing for life. Sebastian-Galles et al
(2005) also indicate the significance of phonology for L2
learning; they believe learning an L2 once the L1
phonology is already internalized can reduce individuals
abilities to distinguish new sounds that appear in the L2.
Most studies into age effects on specific aspects of SLA
have focused on grammar, with the common conclusion
that is highly constrained by age, more so than semantic
functioning. B. Harley (1986) compared attainment of
French learners in early and late immersion programs. She
reports that after 1000 exposure hours, late learners had
better control of French verb system and syntax. However,
comparing early immersion students (average age 6.917
years) with age-matched native speakers identified
common problem areas, including third person plurals and
polite vous forms. This suggests grammar) in L1 or L2) is
generally acquired later, possibly because it requires
abstract cognition and reasoning (B. Harley, 1986).
B. Harley also measured eventual attainment and found
the two age groups made similar mistakes in syntax and
lexical selection, often confusing French with the L1. The
general conclusion is that different aged learners acquire
the various aspects of language with varying difficulty.
Some variation in grammatical performance is attributed to

maturation (discussed in B. Harley, 1986), however, all


participants began immersion programs before puberty
and so were too young for a strong critical period
hypothesis to be directly tested.
Mayberry and Lock (2003) question whether age restrains
both L1 and L2 acquisition. They examined grammatical
abilities of deaf and hearing adults who had their initial
linguistic exposure either in early childhood or later. They
found that, on L2 grammatical tasks, those who had
acquired the verbal or signed L1 early in life showed nearnative performance and those who had no early L1
experience (i.e. born deaf and parents did not know signlanguage) performed weakly. Mayberry and Lock
concluded that early L1 exposure is vital for forming lifelong learning abilities, regardless of the nature of the
exposure (verbal or signed language). This corresponds to
Noam Chomskys UG theory, which states that while
language acquisition principles are still active, it is easy to
learn a language, and the principles developed through L1
acquisition are vital for learning an L2.
Scherag, Demuth, Rosler, Neville and Roder (2004) also
suggest learning some syntactic processing functions and
lexical access may be limited by maturation whereas
semantic function functions are relatively unaffected by
age. They studied the effect of late SLA on speech
comprehension by German immigrants to the U.S.A. and
American immigrants to Germany. They found that nativeEnglish speakers who learned German as adults were
disadvantaged on certain grammatical tasks but performed
at near-native levels in lexical tasks. The findings are
consistent with Hahne (2001, cited in Scherag et al, 2004).
Findings and discussion
Results showed a linear decline in performance with
increasing age of exposure; those exposed to ASL from
birth performed best, and late learner worst on all
production and comprehension tests. Their study thus
provides direct evidence for language learning ability
decreasing with age, but it does not add to Lennebergs
CP hypothesis as even the oldest children, the late
learners were exposed to ASL by age four, and had
therefore not reached puberty, the proposed end of the CP.
It is also measured eventual attainment and found the two
age groups made similar mistakes in syntax and lexical
selection, often confusing French with the L1.
While language acquisition principles are still active, it is
easy to learn a language, and the principles developed
through L1 acquisition are vital for learning an L2.
It is also suggested that learning some syntactic
processing functions and lexical access may be limited by
maturation whereas semantic functions are relatively
unaffected by age.
Limitations : The difficulties are attributed to a phase
around age eight months where bilingual infants are
incentive to vowel contrasts, despite the language they
hear most. This affects how words are later represented in
their lexicons, highlighting this as a decisive period in
language acquisition and showing that initial language

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INTERNAL FACTORS IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

exposure shapes linguistic processing for life. Other work


had challenged the biological approach; Krashen (1975)
reanalyzed clinical data used as evidence and concluded
cerebral specialization occurs much early than Lenneberg
calculated. Therefore, if a CP exists, it does not coincide
with lateralization. Although it does not describe an
optimal age for SLA, the theory implies that younger
children can learn several languages simultaneously as
long as the principles are still active and they are exposed
to sufficient language samples (Pinker, 1995). There are,
however, problem with the extrapolation of the UG theory
to SLA: L2 learners go through several phases of types of
utterance that are not similar to their L1 or the L2 they hear.
Other factors include the cognitive maturity of most L2
learners, that they have different motivation for learning
the language, and already speak one language fluently.
Future research directions : Based on the findings further
research should be attempted to account for variables
detailed by SLA theories and provide an insight into L2
learning processes, which can be applied in educational
environments. One must focus on pairings of L1 that
render L2 acquisition.
Steps must be taken into consideration whether the age at
which participants learned English affected dominance in
Italian-English bilinguals, and found the early bilinguals
were English (L2) dominant and the late bilinguals Italian
(L1) dominant. This suggests that, though Interlingua
interference effects are not inevitable, their emergence, and
bilingual dominance, may be related to a CP.
Care should be taken to highlight and initiate an early
language exposure. They looked at vocabulary processing
and representation in Spanish-Catalan bilinguals exposed
to both languages simultaneously from birth in
comparison to those who had learned L2 later and were
either Spanish- or Catalan-dominant. Findings showed
from birth bilinguals had significantly or difficulty
distinguishing Catalan words from non-words differing in
specific vowels than Catalan-dominants did (measured by
reaction time).
Overcome the difficulties attributed to a phase around age
eight months where bilingual infants are incentive to
vowel contrasts, despite the language they hear most.
This affects how words are later represented in their
lexicons, highlighting this as a decisive period in language
acquisition and showing that initial language exposure
shapes linguistic processing for life. Sebastian-Galles et al
(2005) also indicate the significance of phonology for L2
learning; they believe learning an L2 once the L1
phonology is already internalized can reduce individuals
abilities to distinguish new sounds that appear in the L2.
Most studies into age effects on specific aspects of SLA
have focused on grammar, with the common conclusion
that is highly constrained by age, more so than semantic
functioning. B. Harley (1986) compared attainment of
French learners in early and late immersion programs. She

reports that after 1000 exposure hours, late learners had


better control of French verb system and syntax. However,
comparing early immersion students (average age 6.917
years) with age-matched native speakers identified
common problem areas, including third person plurals and
polite vous forms. This suggests grammar) in L1 or L2) is
generally acquired later, possibly because it requires
abstract cognition and reasoning.
Summary : Horwitz summarises findings of SLA research,
and applies to L2 teaching some principles of L2
acquisition honed from a vast body of relevant literature.
Like Asher, Horwitz highlights the importance of
naturalistic experience in L2, promoting listening and
reading practice and stressing involvement in life-like
conversations. She explicitly suggests teaching practices
based on these principles; [m]uch class time should be
devote to the development of listening and reading
abilities, and [t]eachers should assess student interests
and supply appropriate materials (Horwitz, 1986, p.685686). The audio-lingual teaching practices used in the
present featured heavily, closely followed by reading-byreading and speaking practice. The vocabulary items
taught were deemed relevant for all learners, regardless of
age, and according to Pfeiffer (1964), they are among the
most commonly used nouns in everybody German
language.
Conclusion : The general conclusion from these
investigations is that different aged learners acquire the
various aspects of language with varying difficulty. Some
variation in grammatical performance is attributed to
maturation; however, all participants began immersion
programs before puberty and so were too young for a
strong critical period hypothesis to be directly tested.
Some researchers have focused exclusively on practical
application of SLA research. Asher (1972) insists teenagers
and adults rarely successfully learn L2, and attribute this
to leaching strategies. He presents and L2 teaching
strategy based on infants L1 acquisition, which promotes
listening as central in language learning listening
precedes, and generates a readiness for, speaking
assumptions supported by Carroll (1960). Asher shows
that in L2 acquisition, in this case German, listening
fluency is achieved in around half the usual time if the
teaching is based on L1 acquisition, and that learners
taught in this way still develop residing and writing
proficiency comparable with those training emphasizes
literacy skills.
References
Larry Selinkers (1972) article Interlingua
Noam Chomskys universal grammar and psychological
theories (1994)
Pit Corders (1967) essay The Significance of Learners
Errors
Weber-Fox and Naville (1996)

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